Gabe Toro's Ten Best Films Of 2012

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by Gabe Toro
December 28, 2012 9:56 AM
28 Comments
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A strong year, this 2012. Every genre had its share of riches, and we were spoiled by new films from Andersons Wes and Paul Thomas, further mythmaking from Quentin Tarantino and an inquisition into our currency from David Cronenberg. We saw the continued evolution of the careers of Jacques Audiard, Rian Johnson, Craig Zobel and Ira Sachs, while William Friedkin was revitalized, and, as if by accident, two more great films tumbled out of Steven Soderbergh’s pocket. By the time Steven Spielberg cranked out his finest film in almost two decades, we were awash in riches.

It was also a year about illusions, lies and deception – most of the best films of this year dealt with artifice, the understanding that it’s not about what we want so much as how we disguise it, the truth buttressed and justified by either elaborate hoax or cheap parlor trick. In a year when the nine top-grossing films were all franchise pictures, there was a considerable surplus of surprises. Here are some of them.

HONORABLE MENTION: My ears are still buzzing months later from the year’s best conventional action picture, the hallucinogenic “Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning.” Brit Marling established herself as a major writer and leading lady with “Sound Of My Voice,” while the year’s most audacious science fiction picture had to be the delightfully deranged “Beyond The Black Rainbow.” And very few films were as perceptive about disintegrating relationships as “Oslo August 31” and “The Loneliest Planet.”

10. Zero Dark Thirty
The moral discussion that’s been keeping politicians and oblivious bloggers awake at night amusingly reveals that those who believe movies “endorse” something seem to put them on a higher plane than people who actually understand films. Certainly there are serious questions of morality to be addressed, though they should receive their time in the spotlight away from the film, with the hope that the picture spurs on even more of these questions, instead of confirming the worst prejudices of the uninformed. But “Zero Dark Thirty” is an experience of suffocating intensity, a victory as unhappy and disorienting to viewers with nuance and human concern as it is enthralling for rah-rah morons. Credit Kathryn Bigelow for allowing the film to work on two levels; for the rest of us, it’s the year’s most tense and upsetting thriller, and for those without vision, let it be the broken beacon that guides them down the incorrect road.

9. Magic Mike
Quick, what’s the exchange rate on a pair of great abs? The recession got sexed up in Steven Soderbergh’s zeitgeist-baiting workplace comedy/drama, where Channing Tatum plied his trade for willing ladies, hustling to the banks to fulfill his dreams just as suavely as he hustles potential female customers. By a second viewing, it almost feels as if every shot of a bare behind should be accompanied by a *cha-ching*. And dim actors like Alex Pettyfer and Cody Horn, bless them: they’ll never be as interesting as they are absentmindedly bathing in the stage lights at Xquisite.

8. Amour
Nobody dies quite like they do in a Michael Haneke film, and to prove that point, “Amour.” As upsetting as it is seeing this elderly couple (Jean-Louis Tritignant, Emmanuelle Riva, both fantastic) suffer through a decaying relationship through the horrors of Alzheimer’s, there’s also something quite beautiful about what happens not when we stay together, but when, and how, we break apart. Equally heartbreaking is Isabelle Huppert’s concerned daughter, through no fault of her own slowly disappearing as if isolated on her own iceberg, slowly gliding away.

7. Killing Them Softly
The perfect punctuation mark on how countries react to recession, Andrew Dominik’s slyly hilarious tale of the sea of misanthropes feuding from within a broken caste system boasts a brute force honesty. In certain moments, it perfectly addresses the cult of “order” that allows systems to go corrupt when unchecked. In others, it’s providing two of the year’s scuzziest, most diseased supporting performances from James Gandolfini and Ben Mendelsohn.

6. The Master
Upon a first viewing, an ugly, bleak, utterly hopeless film about a man and the human he trains to be his dog. On a second, a twisted laugh riot about a maladjusted “scoundrel” and his blowhard jerk of a friend. By the third, absolutely mesmerizing. Perhaps it’s wrong to go back and re-watch so recent a film when there’s so much still unseen. If I am a cheat because I find myself compelled to surrender to Paul Thomas Anderson’s peculiar mastery of the form, in display in a strange metaphor for post-war rise and fall, then call me Barry Bonds.

5. Alps
Almost an upsetting semi-sequel to “Amour,” the latest from Yorgos Lanthimos peers behind the curtain of grief to find the oddly humanist ways in which we cope, and how those who provide compassion can easily reach a breaking point as well. Like his earlier feature “Dogtooth,” “Alps” is hilariously absurd while maintaining a poker face, a deeply twisted “Simpsons” premise taken to its logical, peculiar extreme. Lanthimos is easily becoming one of the world’s least compromising comedic voices.

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28 Comments

  • junkFX | January 9, 2013 12:23 PMReply

    Your comments on the Hunger Games are simply top notch! It's exactly what I've been saying, though yours is most definitely more eloquently structured. But yes, I agree, the movie was made for cowards by cowards. If the hook to draw people in is the Battle Royale-esque kids vs kids in an arena, don't cower down to the "we want a movie everyone can love" mentality. Make it how it should have been made. Don't talk brutality, show it. This isn't a book. It's a living, breathing art form. The movie was by far, way too gentle and way to weak. Want us to feel regret for our heroine in danger, show us the massacre unfold, give us fear. Tired of this Disney TV movie generation.

  • fatpie42 | January 2, 2013 1:21 PMReply

    So your top movie of the year is a movie-about-movies? All descriptions of "Holy Motors" have been very hard to understand. The synopsis sounds like it's a tribute to the well-known and extremely out-of-touch award ceremony. ("Mr. Oscar?" Seriously?) I don't doubt that you absolutely loved this film, but I can't understand how this tribute to cinema could do anything other than make you wish you were watching the films to which it pays tribute instead.

    Surprised that there was no mention of "A Royal Affair", even in the commentary after your list. Undoubtedly the best costume drama I have ever seen with Mads Mikkelsen providing what, for me, was the best performance of the year.

  • Mohammed | January 2, 2013 7:00 AMReply

    As one writer pointed out, Zero Dark Thirty can be compared to a film about slavery that doesn't focus on the immorality of human bondage, but on the sideshow that is if the cotton picking was successful or not. To say that there is a neutral stance on torture is to say that there is a moral argument for torture. No two ways about it. One can believe that, but at least have the guts to come out and say it. I can only imagine what the liberal critics would've said if Bigelow was a man and a conservative.

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:23 AMReply

    The

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:22 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:22 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:22 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:21 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:21 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:21 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:20 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • anonymous | January 1, 2013 11:50 PMReply

    Hunger Games had its flaws but its not even close to being among the worst movies of the year.

  • Markunator | December 30, 2012 2:37 PMReply

    Sorry, Mr. Toro, but you don't get to decide what we as a society should condemn. You only get to decide what YOU condemn.

  • sp | December 28, 2012 7:18 PMReply

    Thank goodness for Megan Ellison , but I didn't care for The Master. Seriously, Gabe you loved Universal Soldier ?! Wow !

  • Winston | December 28, 2012 2:06 PMReply

    Let's see. The majority of critics liked the Hunger games. Millions of fans liked it. I liked it. Gabe didn't like it. To each his own.

  • [A] | December 30, 2012 1:38 PM

    Kids these days..

  • Iz | December 29, 2012 2:35 PM

    The Hunger Games was boring as shit. I couldn't keep it on and complained about the $1.30 I wasted on RedBoxing it. Big yawn to that one.

  • Tim | December 28, 2012 2:53 PM

    how is this a response? as if assessing films was a matter of tallying up the thumbs up and thumbs down and calling it a day. rotten tomatoes' legacy at work, i suppose. what a shame.

  • RNL | December 28, 2012 1:56 PMReply

    "The moral discussion that’s been keeping politicians and oblivious bloggers awake at night amusingly reveals that those who believe movies “endorse” something seem to put them on a higher plane than people who actually understand films. “Zero Dark Thirty” is an experience of suffocating intensity, a victory as unhappy and disorienting to viewers with nuance and human concern as it is enthralling for rah-rah morons. Credit Kathryn Bigelow for allowing the film to work on two levels; for the rest of us, it’s the year’s most tense and upsetting thriller, and for those without vision, let it be the broken beacon that guides them down the incorrect road." - Hahahaha! You pretentious wanker. The idea that the "people who actually understand films" are the people who aren't concerned by the ideological content and political significance of films is fucking hilarious.

  • Marko | December 28, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    Apparently Gabe ignored the comment in the Paperboy review on this site that anybody who endorses The Paperboy as some sort of "so bad it's good" classic should not be trusted about any question of judgment for a long time .

  • OMG | December 28, 2012 12:30 PM

    Damn. James said it in his review so it must be unilaterally true. Huh, wow.

  • spassky | December 28, 2012 11:03 AMReply

    "There are hundreds of movies that are released each year, but only a few brave souls have the power to lead us out of a bleak future of endless sequels, reboots and cartoons. Ms. Ellison is one of them."

    Hm. I greatly admire what Ms. Ellison is doing, but this simply isn't true. Only Zero Dark 30 looks to make any profit out of those four films, and subsequently Ellison has been doing what seem to be some desperate moves to obtain franchise money -- i.e. buying the rights to the completely lifeless brand of "Terminator"

  • Oliver Dwight | December 28, 2012 3:54 PM

    Needing to 'obtain money' ?... Does your hobby make money?

    Shame on you guys for not understanding what the word 'billionaire' means.

    Carry on Annapirna... you deserve the accolades. Making movies because you want to, and not for the bottom line.

  • Edward D | December 28, 2012 11:41 AM

    Agree. I also find the endless blowjobs to Annapurna pretty boring.

  • Kelly | December 28, 2012 10:56 AMReply

    "those who believe movies “endorse” something seem to put them on a higher plane than people who actually understand films." - Nothing condescending about THAT statement.... Honestly, some critics are so pretentious it's shocking.

  • Joshua | December 28, 2012 10:37 AMReply

    Did you review Beyond the Hills? It was by far my favorite film of the year. I was wondering why it didn't make your list?

  • Joshua | December 28, 2012 11:14 AM

    Ok. That makes sense now. I saw it at a festival this year. Throws ya off.

  • Rodrigo | December 28, 2012 10:49 AM

    Beyond The Hills is technically a 2013 release. Most of us are going by 2012.

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